Nov 2nd, 2012 1:00 PM UTC
By Adrian Lovett
A world in which 870 million people are chronically undernourished is not best served by small thinking. That’s why it is entirely fitting that in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, David Cameron sets out a vision to make this the generation that eradicates absolute poverty. What seemed a few decades ago to be an idle pipedream is now tantalisingly possible, with a surge of political will and resources in the coming years. The fact that Cameron has articulated this goal, when economic austerity and cynicism with politics makes some view such ambition with scepticism, is a very good sign. He knows such a goal is achievable and appears ready to play his part to make it happen.
But Cameron has done more than set a lofty goal. He has articulated a distinct approach to poverty reduction – the ‘golden thread’ – which argues if societies are to move from poverty to prosperity, they need to have the right institutions and governance arrangements in place, with people empowered to face the challenges and seize the opportunities that they face in their daily lives.
So far, so good. The notion may be open to misinterpretation by some, but the ‘golden thread’ combines conviction and common-sense. So if genius, as Thomas Edison remarked, is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration, the Prime Minister can probably tick off the first half of the formula. But to realise the potential of the smart approach he champions in pursuit of the big vision he has described, he and his team now need to break a sweat.
The leadership challenge is to flesh out the ‘golden thread’ with ambitious policy changes and a diplomatic plan to sell them on the world stage. Neither of these challenges is straightforward but Britain is in a unique position to deliver on them in 2013, thanks to a series of leadership moments where extreme poverty will be centre stage. Each of them will require a carefully constructed alliance of leaders from across the world, from governments, multilateral institutions and civil society. If Cameron can meet five tests in 2013, he will have a justified claim to a place in the history of the fight against poverty.
The first test is to maintain the UK’s commitment to meet the internationally agreed spending target of 0.7% of gross national income on aid. Well-spent British aid transforms lives around the world. Reaching 0.7% means that by 2015 British taxpayers will have supported 16 million children to go to school and paid for vaccinations that will save 1.4 million lives. The UK government should ensure that investment in agriculture is a priority, building on recent commitments to reverse the decades of underfunding for a sector that is the primary occupation of the majority of people living in poverty.
Second, Cameron should use his role as co-chair of the United Nations panel on what will follow the Millennium Development Goals to set an ambitious new set of global poverty targets. The first set of goals from 2000 agreed that extreme poverty should be halved by 2015. World leaders must now set a course to eradicate extreme poverty entirely – and plot the clear steps towards that destination.
Third, the G8 in June must be a moment of clear policy delivery on the ‘golden thread’. The last UK hosted G8 secured important increases in aid and debt cancellation to help directly fund the fight against poverty. In 2013 aid remains an important part of the picture, but as more and more countries attract investment, exploit their natural resources and expand their tax base, Africa’s development prospects increasingly rest on its ability to harness domestic resources for the benefit of all.
There are several ways the G8 can uniquely support this process, advancing transparency in order to empower citizens to take charge of their own destiny. They must act on natural resources, which have too often been a wasted opportunity for developing countries. Cameron’s call for Europe to at least match US legislation requiring extractive companies to publish what they pay governments, broken down to individual projects, is welcome.
The UK should also go a step further by signing up to the voluntary Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative and ending the double standard of asking developing countries to sign on without being members themselves. But the G8 should also agree a package of measures to ensure that newly liberated data about financial transactions between companies and governments is effectively used. Civil society and anti-corruption bodies need to be supported – financially if needs be, through a G8 ‘Follow the Money’ Fund – and government revenue authorities beefed up. The same institutions will benefit from progress on budget transparency, which the G8 should support by endorsing fiscal transparency principles and public procurement efficiency measures. Transparency around other issues including large scale land deals and tax should also be increased, with rules that enable politicians and companies to hide their ill-gotten gains behind a wall of secrecy re-written too. Only then will the illicit financial flows that drain Africa of precious government revenue begin to slow down.
The fourth test is galvanising momentum for world leaders to follow through on bold commitments that will ensure there is enough food for everyone. Cameron has multiple opportunities to lead in 2013 and make sure these promises are kept. As well as the G8, meeting, he announced yesterday that the UK will host a summit next year to focus global attention on agriculture and nutrition.
The New Alliance launched at this year’s G8 to lift 50 million out of poverty through agricultural investment should be expanded to more countries and backed by funding pledges that run until at least 2015. It should also include an accountable partnership on nutrition between developed and developing country governments and the private sector. The Maputo commitment made by African governments to ring-fence at least 10% of national budgets for agriculture will reach its tenth anniversary in 2013 – the summit can also be part of an accountability moment on that promise. Backing African leadership with investment in fully vetted, costed country-owned agriculture and nutrition plans will truly help the continent not merely to survive but to thrive. This must be a core component of a ‘golden thread’ that gives people the opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty.
The final test, which underpins all of the first four, is whether the British government will devote the necessary time and resources to make all of this a success. The ideas and vision are in place but good intentions alone cannot deliver. Have the Cabinet and embassies around the world been drilled into action, with a common determination across all offices of state to pursue an ambitious agenda with drive and discipline? What is the plan for hitting the phones, getting on the road, twisting arms and offering deals to get a result next year? How exactly will Downing Street use each of the thirty-odd weeks between now and the British G8? What plans are being made to leverage British aid at a string of vital multilateral replenishment moments, ranging from the Global Fund to the African Development Bank? These are the questions that will ultimately decide if the ‘golden thread’ fulfils its potential as a means to tackle the causes of poverty.
Citizens and civil society have a big part to play. There needs to be a concerted effort to engage and enlist the public in the next stage – perhaps the decisive one – of the journey towards the end of extreme poverty. That campaigning energy must push the British government, and others, to go the extra mile and make the most of this impressive roster of opportunities in 2013. No one can afford to look back in a year’s time with regret. Least of all David Cameron.
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